We aim to generate opportunities to re-connect one million Opportunity Youth each year to education, employment, national service, and other pathways out of poverty.
As part of our broader policy platform, Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America, we have identified six priority pathways to reconnection that we feel demand immediate attention. We invite you to explore them and our longer-term Broader Systems Change Recommendations, below. If you agree, please join us and take action to make these a reality!
Expand Effective Comprehensive Programs
Bring what works to everyone who needs it.
The comprehensive programs that are already succeeding with opportunity youth should be expanded. These are typically full-time programs that include education, job training, counseling, personal supports and mentors, leadership development opportunities, a positive peer group, pathways to college and jobs, and service opportunities in which young people can learn that it is possible to get paid for doing something good.
Every urban and rural low-income community should have an array of these programs that should be well publicized so that young people can find them and can see alternatives to the street life that is so pervasive. Most of us have experienced AmeriCorps, Back on Track Schools, Public Allies, Service and Conservation Corps, or YouthBuild programs. Through these publicly funded programs we found inspiring pathways to responsible adulthood. These and other effective federal, state and local programs should be expanded to the limits of their capacity.
Based on a study done by Civic Enterprises, we have learned that an annual federal investment of $6.4 billion a year in proven existing federal programs would reconnect one million young adults per year.1 Each 20-year-old permanently reconnected to education and/or employment will directly save the taxpayer $236,000 and will save a total social cost of $704,000 over his or her lifetime.2 Thus, if these programs succeed with just half of their participants, the lifetime direct return on investment to the taxpayer would be over $118 billion for each year of investment. The social benefit would be $350 billion.
The measurable benefits to society of investing in opportunity youth are enormous. Beyond those, the powerful ripple effects of our becoming responsible role models, family members, and community leaders can never be fully measured. Increasing investment in proven program models is the first obvious step.
Expand National Service
Ensure that national service opportunities are accessible to all.
Increase the inclusion of low-income people of all ages in giving service to their communities through national service programs like AmeriCorps, NCCC, Senior Corps, Service Learning, Volunteer Generation and VISTA.
The impact of giving service dramatically changes the identity of low-income service-givers, causing them to commit to long-term civic engagement. The impact is similarly powerful on the rest of the community when we experience our own neighbors and peers as service-givers, rather than being passive recipients of charity from people of different class and racial backgrounds.
Expand Private Internships
Incentivize pathways forward.
Support internships that offer paid employment experience with private corporations that provide appropriate supports to the interns and potential for long-term hiring. Establish a corporate tax credit of up to $4,000 for each six-month paid internship offered to low-income young adults that results in employment. Some of us have experienced amazing internships in the private sector through Year Up, coupled with college prep and a supportive community.
Increase all Forms of Mentoring
Mentoring is proven to have an impact.
Expand mentoring programs and elevate both formal and informal mentoring as a core component for all programs serving opportunity youth. Young people need caring individual mentors to give us confidence, respect and support in planning and working toward a productive future. We need mentors both from a similar background who have overcome familiar obstacles, and mentors from different backgrounds who can open whole new horizons.
Protect and Expand Pathways to Higher Education
Enable access to meaningful credentials.
Make sure that college and registered apprenticeships are affordable and attainable for low-income students. Education awards, scholarships, low-cost community and state colleges, loans that are not predatory or excessively burdensome, and Pell Grants for nontraditional students must be protected and expanded, barriers to obtaining them reduced, and pathways to college strengthened. We understand that higher education is one key to lifelong success.
Support Diversion and Reentry Programs in the Justice System
Enable people to get themselves back on track.
We must focus on better re-entry pathways and supports for people coming out of lockdown and out of the justice system, whether the juvenile or the adult programs. We need second chances for youthful offenders to rebuild their lives through community-based supports, high-quality education, and re-entry programs smoothing the path to employment, education, and community service.
We must also prioritize reducing disparities in juvenile justice; too many young people of color are referred to the system for infractions that do not land their non-minority peers in handcuffs or lockup. In addition, we must address root causes and end the pipeline to prison for children and youth. Too many of our peers are expected to be dead or in jail before they are 25, and many internalize this expectation for themselves. We see evidence all around us that this is what happens in our neighborhoods when young men and women fall off track. It appears that the pipeline to prison has been well laid. We need young people to have ways to break this cycle.
Broader Systems Change for a Better Nation
In addition to our six near-term priorities, we recognize that big changes in various systems are needed to transform our communities and our nation. We need to create safe, welcoming and opportunity-rich communities for every child in America. Here, we outline our initial thoughts in four key areas of social change, click to explore them. This is an ongoing process of developing ever-wiser and more comprehensive solutions. We want to hear your thoughts. Contact us.